Note: This post is part of the celebration of national parks hosted by Pam at Digging.
I was fortunate to go to college in beautiful Colorado, which provided me with many opportunities to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, Roosevelt National Forest, and various national treasures farther west. But my latest visit to a national park was actually a national seashore: Assateague Island on the Atlantic coast of Maryland.
(The beach of northern Assateague Island, smoothed by waves.)
I visited this undeveloped barrier island last winter while doing research for a project. Unfortunately, February is the harshest time, weather-wise, on these barriers, so my stay was relatively short.
(The stark, craggy limbs of loblolly pines, the dominant tree of the forest on Assateague Island.)
But in my brief time there I was still struck by the quiet, unique beauty of this place. Assateague Island is best known for its proximity to the setting of Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague, which centers upon the wild horses of these two barriers. The horses were laying low in the blustery cold on the day I was there, but I did catch this one grazing near a parking lot!
Like many people, I was enchanted by this pony and had to restrain myself from petting it, which is against the rules.
But the horses are an introduced species, and their grazing has caused issues by damaging the American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) that holds the dunes together. In response, this electric fence has been installed along parts of the dune line to keep the horses away from the grass.
(An interior pond in the forest, gilded by ice.)
The salt marshes on the western side of the island are particularly productive and rare environments. They are dominated by salt-tolerant cordgrasses (Spartina spp.) and are breeding and nesting grounds for migrating birds.
Assateague Island contains a unique set of ecosystems on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It is windswept, fragile, and hauntingly beautiful.